By Jason Keidel
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You couldn’t ask for a more important or instructive series than the one between our two baseball clubs this weekend.
The pitching stars could not have aligned much better for the Mets, who trot out Steven Matz, Noah Syndergaard and Matt Harvey to face their eternal tormentors, the Yankees.
The Harvey game matters most, for myriad reasons. First, on the diamond. One team will be going for a sweep or a series win. If the Yanks win the first two, panic will flow through Flushing, the ghosts of gags past whispering to the collective. If he gives the Mets a second or third win it will go a long way to sweeping the PR shards he’s left in his social media wake.
The unholy trinity of Harvey, Scott Boras and Sandy Alderson has bungled whatever plan it had. First, Harvey said he’d pitch anywhere, anytime, until Boras nestled next to him and chirped about contracts and abstract limits. Then the Mets said he’d sit the rest of the season. Then they said they’d use him in 60-pitch chunks until the playoffs. Now he’ll start for the first time since September 8, and then Matz will allegedly pitch in the playoffs. Or something like that.
Confusion often harms more than malice. And the Mets are bewildered over Harvey. But it’s the pitcher himself who created this cauldron. He was all-in until he wasn’t. And he’s moonwalked from his conflicting statements, telling us via Jeter’s celebrity site that he’s the beast we thought he was, sliding his Dark Knight gear back on long enough to type a missive.
But monologues aren’t what made Harvey a hero. The mound is his domain. It’s where he makes the most noise, where he wins games. It’ where he gains fans and makes money.
Harvey started this whole thing. The revival rode his right arm. He embraced the superhero status. We can argue all day about which of their three young arms is the most sublime, but the Mets don’t make the World Series sans Harvey. They don’t beat the Dodgers without Harvey.
For the Yankees, the mission is equally simple. Win as many games as possible to catch Toronto, or else plunge into the one-game wild-card chaos. The Mets have been the little brother for 20 years, yet their ascent isn’t as surprising as what the scrappy Yanks have done. When pondering the AL Manager of the Year, Joe Girardi should get a nod or two. He won’t, because their epic payroll eclipses the meat-hook realities that Girardi has had to navigate this year.
But even though the Yanks are in second place — huffing their way back up to the Blue Jays — and the Mets enjoy a cozy, 7 1/2-game parachute, this series means more to the Mets.
A Subway Series win makes several statements. It says the Mets can beat a team other than the Phillies, Braves, Rockies or Marlins. And it will cement their place as the singular team in the five boroughs or beyond.
If the Yanks flee Flushing with two or three wins, then the Mets’ season will come with a caveat. Yeah, they can feast on the enervated NL East, but when a real club comes to town…
The Yankees could lose every game the rest of the season and still bank on their past; lean on their endless, historical prerogatives. The “Got Rings?” crowd will still crow. The red wine and wind chimes crowd that now occupies that bank vault that doubles as a ballpark will still have its mansions in Greenwich, its duplexes in Tribeca and its sprawling expense accounts.
The Mets have to dig out of the monetary, personnel and cultural hole they’ve dug over the last decade. The last seven weeks have been a revelation. But only if they finish the job. And that starts Friday.
The Mets aren’t feeling the white-hot glare from fans. Yet. But let them lose the Subway Series, and they may want to avoid the 7 Train for a while.
Follow Jason on Twitter @JasonKeidel.